From Justin Bieber to gay rights activism
When Dannielle Owens-Reid and Kristin Russo teamed up to respond to comments on the Tumblr “Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber,” they weren’t expecting to start a movement.
“We really thought that what we were doing was going to be us making a few funny jokes and that was the end of it,” Russo said.
But, the two co-founded the organization “Everyone is Gay,” which brought them to Towson on Dec. 5. The co-founders told their story in the West Village Commons Ballroom A, alongside musician Jenny Owen Youngs, who performed an acoustic set.
Reid said that when she and Russo began “Everyone is Gay,” it grew in popularity within months. Hundreds of followers began asking them questions and requesting advice about how to handle LGBTQ-related situations. Either anonymously or over the phone, email or website, readers looked to the website for answers and guidance, and as a result the organization has taken off.
“It just continues to grow and grow depending on what we are doing and saying and who is talking about us,” Reid said.
Late in 2010 after a string of highly publicized sexuality and gender identity related suicides, Russo and Owens-Reid reached out to their readers to ask, “what more can we do?”
“The resounding response was come and talk at our schools and we thought okay, we have no idea how to do that,” Russo said. “We literally sat down and wrote a script and then sat in my living room and did it for seven of our friends with a little projector and projector screen.”
Two years later, the pair still uses essentially the same script.
“We went to our first university having no idea what to expect and it was really well received and now here we are,” Russo said.
Recently, they have re-modeled their mission statement to what they refer to as a three-pronged approach. Essentially they work to help LGBTQ youth in three ways, by helping them directly through their website, by traveling to schools and helping there, and most recently by contacting and working with their parents.
“Almost everything that we have done has been at the hands of our readers,” Owens-Reid said. “They [the readers] will say please make videos and we will make videos, and then they say please come to our schools and we came to their schools and they say please talk to our parents and now we are doing that too.”
“Everyone is Gay” not only seeks to help its readers, but likes to incorporate comedy into its work. Russo said that she feels as though laughter is a universal language similar to music, which is why they had musician Youngs perform at the event.
“I feel like music is sort of one of those things that every person, from my perspective, takes away something different from,” Youngs said. “The point of art is to make people feel something so hopefully I will make some people feel some positive things.”
Youngs came out publicly this past June, and in August she and her wife, Russo, were married. She said that choosing to address her sexuality publicly was a change she was happy she made.
“I wanted to set a new precedent for myself about being honest about it and addressing it,” Youngs said.
Being close to the organization personally has allowed Youngs to see first-hand the positive and real change she said she has witnessed since the site’s inception.
“It has really inspired me to feel more comfortable and more ready to step forward from myself,” Youngs said. “So hopefully the people who are coming out to listen to them talk will feel some variation of that.”